For my winter project this year I have undertaken the design of a small, sustainable garden either for market or canning. It is far from finished, but thought I would through it out to the blogosphere to get some more input on it.
- Replicable: It should be simple and flexible enough to implement in backyards across the country
- Scaleable: It must be flexible enough to run from several hundred sq ft up to several acres
- Low/No Input: Long Term fertility is maintained on site with minimum eternal fertilizers through cover crops and no till practices.
- Low Pest: Ecological Farming practices implemented to reduce pest pressue by attracting and keeping on site populations of beneficial organisms and heavy emphasis on healthy soil for healthy plants.
- Low Tech: Site to be managed with hand tools and hopefully chicken “tractors” instead of rototillers. This improves soil, cuts start up costs and reduces carbon footprint.
For starters here is a first blush of the layout:
At first glance there is a lot of wasted space. A 4000 sq ft garden with only 1000 sq ft of “productive” beds?! But 33% of the beds are designed to be under long season cover crop at all times- as I get more elegant with my rotations this may be overkill, but my research has shown that the only way to add organic matter is through a perennial cover like alfalfa left for 18+ months.
There is also 1000 sq ft of perennial herb/flower beds to attract benificials that will also produce significant amounts of cut flowers and trace nutrients for the table. This is critical to the long term sustainability of the plot. Without attracting and keeping a strong population of beneficial insects, bacteria and fungus eventually the gardens will fal prey to overwhelming pest invasions. The paths may be overkill and could easily be trimmed from their current 2′ to as little as 1′ on every other path. like Eliot Coleman uses. I would keep the 5′ access path for harvesting the significant amounts of produce from this garden and for trucking in compost and mulch.
The “wasted” space of perrenial cover crops allows the soil to rest and recharge fertility after being “pulsed” with heavy feeding annual vegetable crops. The hope is that by incorporating so much cover crop and perennials that the plot will add fertility over time without additional inputs. This has been shown on much larger farms, so I have confidence it will work here as well.
Another specific goal I was trying to design into this layout was a rotation system to significantly reduce the pest pressures of conventional vegetable gardens. Circling the entire perimeter with a diverse mix of flowers designed to attract predatory insects will force any pests to run a gauntlet before reaching the crops. For the same reason, every year the rotation crosses a perennial bed to force any pests that over winter to search far and wide for their food-increasing the likelihood that they will become food themselves in turn. As the rotation crosses the flower bed, it “drops” one bed, once it reaches the “bottom” of its three bed section it will cross back to the top. I tried to show this in the PDF but it got wicked busy. I may try again as this description is rough too. In addition to the rotation confounding pests, the layout ensures that the benificials attracted to the perennial flowers and herbs will never be more than 8 feet away from the annual veggies.
The Rotational System further divides the crops into groups, usually by Plant Family, allowing 2 beds per plant family per year. Following the rotation ensures that 6 years passed between each plant family residing in each bed. Added layers of biodiversity and productivity can be added by incorporating successional plantings in each bed to get two crops, and/or preceding or succeeding each with a short season cover crop to rebuild soil structure. I have been working on this for a week or so in my spare time and it is getting wicked complicated. Eliot Coleman has a solid system set up in his New Market Grower that I am trying to use as a starting block, but getting it all to mesh is a challenge!
This design can be cut in half or more by shortening the beds from 40′ to 20′, 10′ or less, and can be expanded indefinitely by stacking layouts next to each other. To gauge your size need, a 3’x40′ bed will hold 50 tomato plants, but it can also be further divided by other Solanacea like Peppers, Eggplant and Potato. The “root” crops and romaines will also be subdivided- 3×40 will make a lot of carrots!
I also plan on making this a “no-till” using chicken “tractors” to incorporate cover crops and fertilize the beds after harvest and before plantings. By not breaking the soil surface you encourage immensely more productive and diverse soil ecosystems, and it also makes it Peak Proof by taking out the fossil fuels completely. Cover crops will be mown with either a Sycthe or my rechargeable lawn mower, depending if I want to use chop the mulch fine, or carryit away for chicken fodder (oats) or mulch in another bed.
I have 3 more books on this subject in my Winter Reading queue which should help me fill in the holes of the successional plantings in each bed each year, and also to get more specific with the plants I will place in the Perennial Beneficial Beds.
I fill continue to fill in the gaps and add to this page. I also fully intend on putting this design into practice with perhaps two prototypes at the Market Garden this year, and the learnings once I put spade to soil will be legion.